Blog Posts Tagged ‘local-government’

Steep Slopes Help Scottsdale Engineer Overcome Obstacles


“It’s been a pretty amazing year,” Todd Taylor, a principal traffic engineer in the city’s Transportation Department said.

Many would consider Todd’s statement amazing in itself, considering the trials he’s faced in the past two years. The positive remark is testament to an inner strength that has taken Todd all the way to the windy slopes of Winter Park, Colorado, and a dream of qualifying for the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing National Team.

In early 2014, Todd was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, or R.P. His condition progressed quickly and while Todd has some central vision, he has little to no peripheral vision, making him legally blind.

Todd took to the task of learning his new normal with the assistance of adaptive training and quickly learned how to do things like check emails, use his smartphone and travel to and from the office without driving.

“To lose your mobility, it’s life-changing,” Todd said. “But you have to keep going.”

So when a friend told Todd, an avid recreational skier and former Deer Valley Ski Patrol member, about an opportunity to reconnect with skiing through the Foresight Ski Guide Program in Vail, Colorado, Todd didn’t hesitate.


The program, which allows the visually-impaired to ski with the aid of a guide, was what Todd described as an “immediate form of cheap therapy.”

“It was liberating to feel that rush of wind against my face and my heart thumping in my chest,” Todd said. “There’s a lot of trust involved, knowing someone is watching out for you. My guide had to tell me, ‘Stop trying to see – just ski.’”

Todd also discovered he was fast. Skiing with Foresight triggered his desire to pursue his dream of ski racing in the Paralympics.

The first step – Todd had to become classified as a visually-impaired skier by the International Paralympic Committee. This required a trip last November to British Colombia, where Todd was examined and certified by the committee’s doctors.

Now, Todd has been invited to train as part of a Paralympic Development Program at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and participate in racing events to qualify for the National Team.

A new challenge for Todd and his family has been funding the expense. Alpine ski racing is costly due to specialized equipment, travel, training and race fees. As a visually-impaired athlete, Todd’s expenses dramatically increase because he must also pay for his guide and the guide’s expenses while he trains and competes.

But while the experience has not been without challenges, it’s a journey Todd is grateful for.

Sponsors, friends and family have helped with equipment and donations. Todd is thankful for the support and hopes to build on it, since it may take a few years of training and racing to make the National team.

He’s also in good company as part of the National Sports Center’s Paralympic Development Program, where he trains among an elite group of athletes with visual impairments, amputations, cerebral palsy and other physical challenges.

“It’s inspiring to hear other’s stories and to watch these athletes,” Todd said. “And I’ve had the opportunity to train with athletes from South Africa, Australia, Japan and other international teams.”


It was through the development program that Todd met Nick Manely – another disabled Alpine ski racer who now doubles as Todd’s guide.

As Todd shares his story, he recounts what defined his amazing year thus far:

The entire family – wife Nikki, sons Mack, 11, Brody, 9 and daughter Kate, 5 – learned how to ski.


He found a guide.

He improved his technical skiing – humbled by a few nasty wrecks and some direct coaching.

When he returned from his first competitive race, discouraged that he didn’t finish as well as hoped, Mack was there to put his accomplishment in perspective – excitedly greeting him at the airport and telling him he was proud that his dad had finished.

They’re amazing moments Todd holds tight to, as he looks ahead and continues his dream.

If you’re interested in supporting or learning more about Todd’s ski racing journey, visit

Story by Holly Walter, public information officer, City of Scottsdale

Alicia Jerger

Boating Coordinator
City of Tempe

Alicia Jerger - Tempe

Born and raised in the city where she now works and still calls home, Alicia grew up in Tempe and spent her high school years playing varsity basketball.

Coming of age at a time when female athletes were finally starting to get the attention they deserved, Alicia saw first-hand how this recognition and the earlier passing of Title IX would come into play.  As colleges and universities were recruiting to fill spots on sports teams, San Diego State University came calling. They were adding a women’s rowing team to their collection of athletics and were recruiting female high school athletes.

Though she had never rowed before, Alicia was a respected athlete who jumped at the opportunity to move to San Diego and try out for their varsity rowing team. A year later, she was attending SDSU on a full ride rowing scholarship. She was the very first person in Arizona ever recruited to row at the collegiate level.

Meanwhile, Alicia’s hometown was undergoing some changes of its own. Discussions about the creation of an urban lake in Tempe had been going on for years and in 1999, during her freshman year at SDSU, Tempe Town Lake was filled.

Alicia enjoyed being out on the water and after graduating, she was brought on as an assistant rowing coach at SDSU. She spent two years in that position before becoming the director of rowing at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center in San Diego. The center, run by the State of California, gave Alicia her first taste of working with local government.

While she had come to fall in love with the City of San Diego, Alicia returned home to attend law school. In the midst of applying, she found a job posting as an assistant boating coordinator for the City of Tempe’s Tempe Town Lake. It was the perfect position.

Continuing her passion for boating and finding a newfound passion for working in local government, Alicia went on to receive her Master of Public Administration. After four years working as the assistant boating coordinator, Alicia moved on to work for four years as an assistant events coordinator in the city, followed by the position of senior boating coordinator, which she has now held for two years. Alicia is the third boating coordinator the city has seen since the lake’s inception.

As the senior boating coordinator, Alicia is essentially responsible for any activity that happens “on top of the water.” She oversees the boat house at Tempe Town Lake, which provides private storage for people to keep boats at the Lake. The City of Tempe offers recreation classes on the lake and Alicia manages rowing, kayaking and stand up paddling, in addition to hosting corporate, youth and teambuilding events. The lake also hosts three major regattas, which Alicia oversees. She also supervises junior rowing, which brings together students from all over the Valley. They row five days a week and travel across the country to participate in competitions. Many of these junior rowers hope to find success at the collegiate level, just as Alicia did.

And like Alicia, maybe one of those junior rowers will find their own perfect job someday. One where they can stay on the water all day, interact with the boating community and volunteers, and serve the city that they call home.

Kim Eckhoff

City of Tolleson


Assigned to complete a Master’s-level course assignment a few years ago, Kim Eckhoff stepped into the Tolleson Public Library to evaluate the small and rural public library from a customer’s perspective and develop a plan from a librarian’s perspective to make it better.

The library’s centralized location inspired so many ideas in Kim.

From 1997 through 2013, Kim was a teacher and school librarian for the Tolleson Elementary School District. Having come to know children, parents and educators in the close-knit community very well while working as their teacher-librarian, she believed some reorganization and expanded programming would have a positive impact on the community. When the position for the city’s librarian became open, Kim was thrilled with the idea to apply and was given the opportunity to set in motion some of the ideas she had put into her assignment.

Libraries have always held a special place in Kim’s heart. As a college student, she found a part-time job working in the school library.

“To me, that was a coup, since the library has always been a special place for me. My mother was a librarian who made sure I had books in my hands every day, especially when I was a developing reader. I feel like a duck in water when I’m in a library,” says Kim.

Those feelings remain the same, as she still loves when she can recommend just the right book to a customer and help them find another when they return raving about her first recommendation.

Literature is still igniting imagination in Kim. After reading a book about a dragon last year with the library’s junior book club, she decided to build a dragon out of paper mache for the city’s Luces de Navidad Parade. It was 10 feet high and 15 feet long.

“I’ve had a lot of big ideas like that over the years and fortunately I have a husband who understands my wild ideas and helps me build them!” Kim says.

As a librarian in a small community, Kim has the opportunity to wear many hats. She spends a lot of time networking with other librarians in Arizona and nationally. She also runs with a lot of ideas to develop programming, coordinating the summer reading program, book clubs, a tutoring program and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities. The library staff also collaborates with other city departments to bring literacy awareness to city events.

“I march in parades, write grants, purchase books, and build the library collection,” Kim says. “Each day is different.”

She also finds that she’s witnessed some strides, both big and small, that the library staff has made this year. From kids chanting rhymes and building their appreciation for literature during story time, to adults learning how to use an e-reader for the first time, Kim feels proud about each accomplishment.

“Libraries transform communities and it’s really satisfying to be a part of that.”

Lee Cox

Airport Customer Service Technician
Town of Wickenburg

Lee Cox - Wickenburg

A small-town Kentucky boy, Lee Cox traveled the world and landed at the airport in Arizona’s Wild West. Lee Cox was raised on a farm in Kentucky. At age 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a parachute infantryman and served in combat deployments during Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. After leaving the military, he worked in construction and as a gunsmith, later re-enlisting in the Army reserve as an aircraft structural repairman. He also worked as a cable splicer, apprentice electric lineman, certified back country guide, appliance repairman and guest ranch maintenance worker/wrangler, which is what eventually led him to Wickenburg. Landing in the Town of Wickenburg, Cox began as a communication specialist in 2006 with the Wickenburg Police Department. He also worked as a reserve officer and once he graduated from the police academy, was offered a position as a full-time officer. He served five years as a full-time officer, three as the department’s K-9 handler. Lee Cox - Wickenburg 2 Unfortunately, medical issues prevented Cox from continuing his position as a full-time police officer, which led him to apply for a position as the Wickenburg airport customer service technician. As the airport customer service technician, Cox gets to experience a variety of tasks on a daily basis. Encompassing several areas, Cox is responsible for facility and equipment maintenance, fueling aircraft, answering questions and assisting visitors with their travels to Wickenburg. He says that the best part of his job is getting to meet a diverse array of people from all over the country and world, not unlike many of the jobs he has held in the past. It’s clear that visitors enjoy meeting Cox and learning how a small-town Kentucky boy came to live in the small-town southwest. “I have been asked many times how I ended up in Wickenburg, as my accent gives it away that I’m not from here. I reply that it’s a long story,” says Cox. “Although I have traveled the country and world over the years, seen and done many things, I sometimes wonder how a small-town farm boy from Kentucky found his way to a small town in the desert of Arizona. It’s been a long road that led me here, but I can say without a doubt I am proud to now call Wickenburg my home.”

Alison Zelms

Deputy City Manager
City of Prescott

Alison Zelms - Prescott

Many city or town employees have positions that require them to “wear many hats” in their day-to-day responsibilities. For some, the idea of taking on multiple projects and job titles could seem overwhelming. But Prescott Deputy City Manager Alison Zelms knows a thing or two about variety and tackles multiple projects like a pro.

Having grown up on Air Force bases around the world as a child, Zelms had the opportunity to move to different places, see the world and gain perspective. She spent time in West Germany and saw first-hand the vast differences in lifestyle from each side of the Berlin Wall. It was her experience witnessing West and East Berlin that inspired her interest in the importance and daily impact of public policy.

Taking these early-learned passions, Zelms went on to receive her bachelor’s degree and Master in Public Administration. During graduate school at the University of Arkansas, she began her work in local government, starting at the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information. From there she became an assistant to the city manager in University Park, Texas, followed by a position in Evanston, Illinois as management analyst in charge of a $175 million operating budget.

Alison was brought to Arizona through an assistant city manager position with the City of Sedona. It was there that she honed her skills in multi-tasking as she oversaw the finance, economic planning, information technology, arts and culture, communications and public works departments. She also started the City of Sedona’s first intergovernmental relations program, serving as their legislative liaison in addition to her regular duties.

In December, Alison celebrated four years of service with the City of Prescott. Drawing on her experience in legislative work from Scottsdale, one of her “many hats” in Prescott also includes serving as the city’s intergovernmental affairs liaison. Within this role, she monitors legislation, develops the city’s annual legislative policy with the city council and communicates the city’s positions during the legislative session. Multitasking is essential for Zelms and any “part-time intergov,” whose full-time positions only offer them minimal time to work on legislative issues, as she is also responsible for oversight of seven operational areas and is engaged in budget development, personnel management, policy implementation and day-to-day operations.

Zelms thrives in the variety of her multi-faceted position. Though it can be a challenge to cover so much ground, she appreciates the combination of broad supervisory duties and leadership on complex policy issues, in addition to continuous education on new issues and making new connections between people and topics.

“This position is never boring,” said Zelms. “There are always opportunities for even small gains to be made in gaining an audience for an issue or creating solutions.”

Jenny Howard

Utilities Director
City of Safford


The City of Safford, settled at the base of Mount Graham in rural southeastern Arizona, is a very unique municipality.  Safford is the sole owner of all utilities; water, wastewater, gas and electric. Jenny Howard has have been employed with the City of Safford for 11 years.  In the spring of 2015 she accepted the position of utility director, managing all Safford utilities as well as wastewater treatment, landfill and solid waste services.

With a 23-year background in electric infrastructure projects in western and central a US and 12 years in project management and controls, she feels right at home in the industry.  Howard came to the City of Safford in 2004 from POWER Engineers, a world- renowned electrical engineering firm based in Idaho. She relocated temporarily to Safford from Sun Valley, Idaho for a job assignment in construction management on a large high voltage transmission line and substation project for Phelps Dodge Mining (Now Freeport McMorran).

Well, during her tenure with Phelps Dodge, she met and fell in love with a cotton farmer and they were married in 2004.

“It’s kind of funny that happened,” says Howard. “The first agricultural crop I saw when driving to Safford was a cotton field and I laughed out loud asking myself, ‘They grow cotton in Arizona?'”

After her contract was complete at the mine, she was hired by the City of Safford in procurement. Once on board with Safford she continued to develop knowledge in infrastructure operations and regulations in the wastewater, water and gas industries while attending the college of business at Eastern Arizona College.  In 2007 she moved to a project management position and in 2015 became utility director. Howard loves the diversity of managing the utilities.  As with all utilities, the challenges of replacing aging infrastructure, planning expansion with new development, and keeping the lights on and water flowing, means a well-managed maintenance program and a very detailed and well planned 5-year CIP.  That is a challenge in itself (x 6).  The city water infrastructure consists of 8,000 services and 250 miles of water pipe and serves not only the City of Safford but also the surrounding communities and unincorporated areas of Graham County.  Safford also serves 4,000 electric and 3,500 gas, sewer and solid waste customers within the Safford city limits, as well as owns and operates the landfill which serves all Graham County population of 30,000.

Along with the daily challenges of providing multiple utility services to our customers, Howard loves Safford’s diverse community and the networking associated with the director position.

“Getting involved in community outreach and working alongside such a great team of Managers and employees is certainly an attribute to the overall success of the Utility Department.  I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Doug Graeme

Queen Mine Tour Manager
City of Bisbee

Douglas Graeme

People find their careers and their passions through a variety of different ways. For Douglas Graeme, he was born into it.

Doug Graeme’s storied history with the city began in 1883 with the arrival of his great grandfather, who came into town looking for work. Over the next several decades, he settled and raised a family in this town, growing a passion for its history.

Doug was born years later in Bisbee and took his cues from generations past, as he spend much of his free time exploring, collecting artifacts and learning about his city’s history.

Together, with his siblings, Richard W. Graeme IV and Emily Grame Larkin, Doug helped write a book about Bisbee’s history. Inspired by the past of their own family members, the siblings took to paper to share tales about copper mining, natural disasters, and the people who came to settle and grow the popular southern Arizona community.

Bisbee is an old mining city in southern Arizona, rich in history and culture. Their account of the city’s past incorporates the geological significance of finding copper ores, the major influences of Native America culture, presence of early culture like opera houses, rodeos and saloons, and the tragedies that occurred during the early days of mining camp.

In addition to sharing Bisbee’s history through the written word, Doug serves as the Queen Mine Tour Operator for the City of Bisbee. Approximately 50,000 people a year visit the Queen Mining Tour to commemorate Bisbee’s prosperous mining heritage and experience what it was like working underground.

Carmen Martinez

City Clerk
City of Avondale

City Clerk

City Clerk

The city clerk is one of the essential positions in municipal government.  Depending on the size of the city or town, the city/town clerk’s responsibilities are varied and often perform functions of city manager, finance officer, human resource director.  In the City of Avondale, the city clerk’s functions include records management, elections, council meeting agenda and minute preparation, public records requests, liquor licensing, annexations and special event permits.

Carmen Martinez was hired as deputy city clerk in 2002, and promoted to city clerk in 2008. She has advanced the functions and services in the city clerk department in so many ways. Her staff is literally the “face” of Avondale – as they manage and staff the front desk in the lobby of city hall, greeting thousands of people who come through the door each year, answering the telephone to the main city hall line, and more.  In 2007, she brought forth the idea of providing passport processing services at city hall.  Since then, the program has generated more than $1.15 million in revenue to the city.

Thanks to Carmen’s efforts, she has also worked with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to host several citizenship ceremonies at Avondale City Hall. The ceremonies, consisting of more than 100 new citizens at each one, are always very moving. Carmen herself has been a keynote speaker at these events, telling her personal story of becoming a naturalized citizen.

When it comes to elections, Carmen has placed a great deal of focus on transparency and voter participation.  In 2008, the city faced a substantial increase in its election costs. In an effort to be accountable to the citizens with their money, the city council approved staff’s recommendation to change the city’s election cycle ahead of the statutory requirement.  This required voter approval.  Carmen recognized this change represented a challenge with respect to independent voters and the need to educate them regarding their choice for a ballot. Working with the community relations department, she conceived the idea of Carmen Electa, Avondale’s own elections ambassador. Carmen Electa is the face of elections in Avondale and she comes out every election to educate voters and their families about voter registration deadlines, issues and choices.  Avondale’s special election was put in the 2008 primary election ballot for voters’ approval.  Avondale chose to host an early voting site for that election and on the last week of the early voting period, saw hundreds of voters each day come into Avondale City Hall to cast their early ballot.

The 2014 primary election was a particularly challenging election in Maricopa County.  There was confusion with polling places; some cities were holding all-mail ballot elections, while others weren’t.  As part of a resident outreach, the city clerk’s department learned that voters would be more likely to vote if voting was more accessible and convenient for them.

In response to that, Avondale now offers its city hall as an early voting site for voters for every election regardless of whether Avondale had an issue on the ballot. Since ballots are printed on demand, ANY voter in Maricopa County can come to Avondale City Hall to cast their ballot.  So beginning with the ongoing 2015 November election, Avondale is hosting an early voting site for every election.

“We want to become to GO TO place where any voter in Maricopa County can cast their vote,” said Carmen. “Our staff is knowledgeable, professional and friendly.  Carmen Electa is preparing for the city’s upcoming 2016 primary election.  We will do our best to reach out to voters and educate them and entice them to cast their ballot.”

Nicole Laurin-Walker

Town of Gilbert

Copyright - Arizona Republic, 2012. Michael Chow, photographer. Used with permission. Permission does not imply endorsement.

Copyright – Arizona Republic, 2012. Michael Chow, photographer. Used with permission. Permission does not imply endorsement.

Gilbert Judge Nicole Laurin-Walker is a legal rock star.

Growing up just outside of Chicago, Nicole Laurin-Walker was a serious student of classical piano and competed regionally. Her studious manner led her to attend the University of Michigan where she received a degree in psychology and later the University of Arizona College of Law where she received her law degree. It was there in Tucson that she received her first taste of courtroom experience as an oral argument contest winner at the law school. She also spent time working as a Haitian asylum petition writer during a summer in Miami, a legal intern for Motorola in Phoenix, and an intern at the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. After law school, she worked as a bailiff at the Maricopa County Superior Court while she studied for the bar exam.

Her extreme focus led Laurin-Walker to become the Town of Gilbert’s first assistant town prosecutor in 1994. Back then there was only one prosecutor in the office, and she appeared before one judge. Her hiring at the time doubled the size of the prosecutor’s office!

As a prosecutor, she was in the Gilbert Municipal Court every day, appearing before Gilbert’s sole judge, David Phares, handling everything from probation violations to jury trials. After a bit, she moved over the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and prosecuted felonies before returning to Gilbert to write appeals for the Prosecutor’s Office. After her return, Judge Phares decided it was time to add a second judge to the court and Laurin-Walker applied, despite being only 27 at the time. She was offered the job and has held the position ever since.

When a person is accused of committing a misdemeanor in the Town of Gilbert, Judge Laurin-Walker begins her duties. When the individual first appears in court, her job is to make sure they understand the charges they face and the rights they have, appoint them an attorney if they are eligible, listen to the victim’s concerns, and then set some release conditions to make sure the accused person will appear at future court dates. If a person pleads not guilty, she will set the case for trial, making decisions before the trial about what evidence should be allowed and what should be kept out. During an actual trial, she questions jurors to make sure they are fair and impartial, decide which rules of law the jurors will be required to follow, and make sure proper procedures are followed by the parties so that the process is fair to both sides. If there is no jury, Judge Laurin-Walker has the authority to decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty and also give a sentencing, should the case require it.

Laurin-Walker likes to hear people’s stories and try to figure out what drives them and what might change their behaviors. Nothing makes her happier than watching a defendant work his way through jail and counseling probations and see him go to college or get a real job at the end of it all.

Gilbert Judge Nicole Laurin-Walker is also a real rock star.

True to her musical roots as a classically-trained pianist, Laurin-Walker continued to be a musician alongside all her schoolwork and lawyering. She now sings and plays keyboards in a rock band called The Love Me Nots. The band tours worldwide and has put out six albums. Laurin-Walker says she has gotten a taste of real rockstar success, despite the restrictions she had due to her work with the town. Her colleagues all support her musical endeavors and strive to maintain their own hidden talents outside of work.

“I love working in a place where everyone seems to be doing something fascinating outside of work hours,” said Laurin-Walker. “It gives us a better perspective overall.”

Martin Porchas

City of Somerton 


As the second youngest of 11 siblings, Martin Porchas grew up in the City of Somerton, where he now serves as mayor. He attended O.L. Carlisle Elementary School, Kofa High School and AWD Community College. His parents and older brothers and sisters were field laborers.

“I am very proud to say that I was not the first one in my family to attend college or finish high school,” Mayor Porchas said. “I have a brother who graduated from University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree. My second youngest sister became a nurse, and the youngest received her master’s degree in education.”

Throughout the first 20 years of Mayor Porchas’ life, his family would travel to California in the summers. Some years, he would not get to finish school or the season playing baseball because of the move to California.

“Many of my friends thought itw as awesome to travel to California,” Mayor Porchas declared. “Little did they know, I was not too thrilled about it, but I had to follow my parents. Don’t get me wrong, but when a boy at the age of 12 has to get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. all summer long to go work in the fields, it makes for a long and not-too-pleasant summer.”

As he got older, Mayor Porchas came to understand why his family would travel to California. He said that Somerton still faces some of the same challenges it had 30 or 40 years ago, one of which is having the highest unemployment rate in the state. The majority of the jobs are seasonal, which is why his family would travel out of state to seek employment.

“I am proud and now honored to say that I got to hang out and learn from one of the hardest workers I have ever known in my life – my dad,” Mayor Porchas said.

Family is now just as important to Mayor Porchas, who is married to his lovely wife, Dalila, and is a proud father of two children, Martin Adrian Porchas and Andrea Porchas.